Happy Valentine’s Day! Regardless of life ‘circumstance’, this day has always held a special place in my heart ( pun intended). I remember waking up as a child to a little ‘token’ from my mother that was that year’s heart-shaped materialization of love. The tradition continued when I left home, and I will continue it in her memory. With that, this year, in honor of the inception of elated™, the token appropriately comes in the form of food. Although not heart-shaped, this meal was created to give you a boost of one of our ‘feel good’ neurochemicals: serotonin. Together with another lady-boss in the field of nutrition: Monica Auslander, MS, RDN of Essence Nutrition, we put a nutritive and neuroscientific spin on the art of using whole, natural, ingredients to enjoy aphrodisiacs either alone or with a loved one!
But first, a little background. A lot of people don’t know that about 90% of our serotonin is produced in our gut! So what we eat can directly affect our emotional state. Low levels of serotonin can leave you feeling depressed, whereas appropriate levels can leave you feeling...wait for it...elated! As humans, we are also able to use the amino acid tryptophan as a building block to make serotonin. So, eating foods that contain tryptophan can help promote the production of the neurochemical involved in everything from sex, to happiness, and the spectrum in between. However, it is important to note that there is an ‘effective’ and ‘less effective’ way of doing this. Consuming tryptophan-rich foods along with a carbohydrate, which promotes the secretion of insulin and allows for increased amino acid absorption, is one of the more effective tactics. More effective than relying on protein-based sources such as turkey, which can actually inhibit serotonin formation. Now don’t get too excited, this doesn’t mean go crazy with the desert menu in the name of a mood boost, but instead, choose brain-healthy carb options like fruit and non-wheat grains. And as research is still being conducted, don’t worry if there’s protein mixed in with your tryptophan, it’s not the end of the world.
Don’t want to figure out how to balance all of this? Don’t. Let us do the heavy lifting for you.
So, for our ‘Feed your Essence and get Elated’ menu, we’ve chosen to start things off with a mocktail coyly named ‘Sip Me Slowly’, followed by a daikon and watermelon salad, and for a main course, a chocolate-chicken mole served with a pepita and pomegranate quinoa salad. If you notice, in true V-day fashion, we’ve attempted to incorporate as much red, pink, and chocolate as possible.
Sip me Slowly: Refreshes 2
- About a tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- ¼ lb fresh strawberries, chopped
- ¼ of a lime
- ½ of a lemon
- 8oz preferred kombucha (we used GTs Trilogy)
- 1oz preferred sparkling water (we used an unsweetened mixed-berry)
- Strawberry for garnish
Instructions: Muddle ginger and strawberries together, squeeze in lime and lemon juice, add kombucha and sparkling water. Stir, strain, pour over ice and garnish with a strawberry. Voila!
Benefits: It’s thought that increasing the presence of probiotics in our gastrointestinal tract can help produce free tryptophan, which in turn, increases serotonin. The probiotics in kombucha are a result of the fermentation process that the tea undergoes.
Watermelon and Daikon Salad: Generously serves 2
- 1 medium daikon radish, peeled and cubed
- ½ seedless watermelon, cubed
- ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
- ½ lemon
- Apple cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Instructions: Just combine all ingredients into a bowl and there you have it, a perfectly pink salad that will help set the mood and freshen your breath too!
Benefits: One of nature’s aphrodisiacs, watermelon, has been shown to contain the antioxidant lycopene, which can help protect against cognitive decline. The other star of the dish: daikon has anti-cancer properties, is great for the skin, aids digestion, and is rich in antioxidants vitamin A, C, E, and B-6, which helps...serotonin production!
Chocolate Chicken Mole w/ Pepita and Pomegranate Quinoa Salad: For 2
- 2 all natural chicken breasts
½ onion, chopped
½ tsp chili flakes
1 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
½ red wine
1 ½ cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
½ jalapeño, sliced
¼ walnuts, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste
½ cup quinoa
½ cup pepitas ( pumpkin seeds)
½ cup pomegranate seeds
Extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste
Instructions: Drizzle olive oil into a large pan, and season breasts on both sides with the salt and pepper. Sear breasts lightly for about a minute on each side. Add onions and watch that they become slightly translucent. Once that occurs add the chili flakes and the cocoa powder and stir so that a paste forms. Add wine and let reduce for about three minutes. Add stock, and let simmer for about 30 min. In the meantime, you can make the quinoa salad: simply boil the quinoa, adhering to the instructions on the package, toss in the pepitas and pomegranate seeds, and season to your discretion. When the chicken is done, serve each breast alongside the salad, and ‘decorate’ with the jalapeño slices and chopped walnuts. Enjoy!
Benefits: Cocoa powder, like dark chocolate, is full of flavanols and tryptophan, which helps increase blood flow to the brain and puts that extra pep in your step. When cooked, the alcohol in wine diminishes and can aid in lowering blood pressure. Walnuts, and pepitas are excellent sources of brain-healthy omega fats, while the quinoa brings the stress-reducing amino acid, lysine, to the table and shares the pomegranate seed's antioxidant punch!
Now all that’s left is to feast.
Happy dining! Literally.